After a major increase in deaths from COVID-19 in December, Carver County Public Health Director Richard Scott says numbers are dropping as the new year continues.
Half of the county's death count is from December cases, Scott said, but despite the sharp rise, relief is likely on the way.
“We do anticipate that the death toll will also significantly start to decrease,” Scott said, noting deaths are usually reported two to four weeks after case confirmations.
Just under 60% of Carver County's 34 deaths occurred in long-term care or assisted living facilities, according to county data. Just under 40% were of those living in a private residence. Around 3% is attributed to group homes.
Scott said Minnesota has been more fortunate than other states, likely because “many people actually heeded that advice” from Gov. Tim Walz in last month’s "Pause," refraining from social gatherings.
“We could see this as possibly being the downward slope on the pandemic curve,” he said, but noted more spikes could come if people don’t practice mask-wearing and physically-distancing.
A case spike is possible as post-Christmas numbers roll in, especially considering high airplane travel over the holidays, Scott said.
“It’s way too early to know how people chose to act over the winter holiday season. If they responded in the same way they did during Thanksgiving, I think we will be fortunate,” he said.
The county’s Ridgeview Medical Center received a shipment late last month of 975 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for healthcare and high-priority workers like emergency responders.
Soon, staff anticipate vaccinating residents and caregivers in long-term care facilities in a partnership with pharmacies, Scott said. The 200 Moderna vaccines, delivered also in late December, will likely be used for that purpose.
“We anticipate receiving a modest number of vaccines on a semi-monthly basis,” he said.
He called the vaccine rollout process a “sort of hierarchy” with batches going to groups most in-need first.
Scott said the next shipment will bring two times as many vaccines as the last, to come within the next week or so. People in the high-priority category have been notified of their eligibility.
To stay mobile, the county used $500,000 in federal COVID-relief funds for a medical semi-trailer.
The mobile clinic will serve as a vaccine go-to, either traveling to places like long-term care facilities or parking in a more convenient location for others. Vaccines will likely be available via pharmacies, doctor’s offices, vaccine clinics, and the mobile clinic, Scott said.
Though he doesn’t have an exact date, he said he anticipates using the mobile clinic trailer as soon as the general public has access to vaccines.
“We felt collaboratively that one of the important assets to help us address the pandemic would be the ability to be mobile,” Scott said.
Around 6% of all Carver County residents have recovered from COVID, Scott said. That means 94% of the county is still susceptible.
After this initial vaccine phase, around 3% of all residents will be vaccinated, he said. Around 70% probably need to be vaccinated to protect everyone from spread.
Until then, this pandemic’s continual nature depends on people’s behavior, Scott said. He recommends people continue wearing face masks, avoiding social gatherings, and staying home when sick even as vaccines roll out.
“All of those things are still the most important thing we can do to prevent the spread,” Scott said. “I think we're at the beginning of the end.”